Sometimes we take certain things for granted. We often don’t stop to realize what life was like for our ancestors. We may have skills that our ancestor did not possess. Recently I stumbled across some old photographs that made me stop and think.
In 1905 the automobile was a novelty. Very few people had ever driven one, much less owned one. After looking at a couple of photographs, I realized that most people did not know how to drive in those days.
Today most adults are familiar with driving automobiles. However, 100 or more years ago, that was not true. In fact, the idea of someone driving an automobile was so unique that commercial photographers of the time often took advantage of the automobile to sell more photographs.
Photographers have long kept props for use in photographs. For years, even today, commercial photographers often have kept clothing, hats, and more for use in photographs. During the U.S. Civil War, most commercial photographers kept an inventory of rifles, swords, and even uniforms so that soldiers would pay for photographs that showed them adorned with those props. One hundred or more years ago, some enterprising photographers kept automobiles for the same purpose.
For instance, here is a photograph take around 1905 along the boulevard in Revere Beach, Massachusetts. The photo is courtesy of the Library of Congress research archive as published on the Shorpy.com web site (at http://www.shorpy.com/node/18518?size=_original).
Click on the photo to view a much larger image.
You will note the clothing of the time, the swimmers in the ocean to the right and horse-drawn carriages traveling along the street. There is not an automobile in sight.
Now look at the sign above the entrance of the tintype photo parlor. Here is a close-up of that entrance.
Notice the sign hanging above the doorway: “It’s the Fad. Your Picture in an Auto.”
Those who did not own automobiles and, indeed, did not know how to drive, could have their photo taken showing them behind the wheel. In fact, newsletter editor Pam Cerutti has an excellent example of just that. Here is a photograph of her great-grandfather John Sellers, taken in England. (Details about the people in the photograph are given in a footnote below.) Pam believes this photograph was also taken around 1905. It appears the British liked to have pictures taken in an automobile in the same manner as the Americans in Revere Beach.
Click on the image below to view a larger version:
You can see John Sellers, his wife, their eight children, some friends, and the niece of Mrs. Sellers in the photo. Notice that John is intently staring ahead, obviously focusing on his driving. That is a bit amusing as John never learned how to drive!
When looking at old family photographs, keep in mind that not everything is what it seems to be. Older photographs were often “staged” to represent something that never happened in real life. However, they were almost always entertaining, both for the people in the photograph as well as for their descendants.
Your ability to own and drive an automobile is something your great-grandparents would have envied.
Footnote: In the photo of John in a car in front of the George Hotel, Cliff Sellers believes the children shown are, from right to left: Arthur, Walter (with the ‘stache), 2 friends, Jack, Daisy (Eva), Hettie, Emma, and Eunice. Cliff believes the other woman in the car with Mrs. Sellers is her niece.
Daisy is the grandmother of newsletter editor Pam Cerutti. She was known by the nickname of “Daisy” all her life, thanks to the entertainment she gave patrons at her father’s pub by singing a popular song of the time about a girl named Daisy on “A Bicycle Built for Two.” If John Sellers hadn’t taken this opportunity to have his family photographed with the car, it’s likely that no picture of them would ever have been found.